Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Developing Approaches to Outdoor Education That Promote Sustainability Education

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Developing Approaches to Outdoor Education That Promote Sustainability Education

Article excerpt

Introduction

As societies across the world face the stark reality of growing social inequality, economic uncertainty, and environmental degradation, it is increasingly evident that we are sustaining the unsustainable. Consequently, the need for a transformative shift towards sustainability in all spheres of life, including education, is escalating. For the better part of two decades there have been calls from within the outdoor and adventure education field to pay heed to sustainability issues. Despite these calls, many dominant conceptions of outdoor education in Western countries, such as Aotearoa New Zealand (1), still cling to twentieth century models based primarily around adventure pursuit activities and personal development doctrines. In many ways these dominant conceptions have emerged to be largely separate from the aims of education for sustainability or environmental education. It must be acknowledged this is not the case in all contexts, for example, Victoria, Australia has a rich heritage of environmental and community oriented school based outdoor education curriculum (Gough, 2007; Martin, 2008a). Moreover, a significant body of literature in the last decade has critiqued dominant adventure based conceptions of outdoor education and advocated for more meaningful and critical engagement with human/nature relationships, place, culture, and ecology. Consequently, the contested space of outdoor education continues to wrestle with issues of identity, philosophy, theory, curriculum, and pedagogy (Brown, 2009; Wattchow & Brown, 2011; Zink 2010). Whilst this introspection, characterised by criticality and debate may be necessary and even healthy, I argue that any re-envisioning of outdoor education must be framed by 21st century issues and contexts. To this end, this article advocates for an approach to outdoor education which, among other things, seeks to address and incorporate sustainability issues and principles. Specifically this article draws on recent doctoral research (Hill, 2011) to present a change model for facilitating approaches to outdoor education which promote the goals of sustainability education. This model suggests that change can take place at three levels for teachers and educators: first, in philosophy, values, and understandings, second, in infrastructure, resource use, and programming, and third, in teaching and learning strategies.

Multiple claims have been made about the impact of outdoor education over the years, including: personal and social development, leadership, group bonding, acquiring adventure skills, and aspects of environmental care. Of course a case can be made that outdoor educators should remain faithful to goals such as personal development through adventure and challenge, or the acquisition of adventure recreation skills. These types of arguments inevitably lead to the philosophical question; what are we educating for? As I have suggested elsewhere (Hill, 2009, 2011, 2012), and maintain in this article, the global social, economic, and environmental issues facing 21st century societies are too significant and pressing to ignore. Moreover, these issues compel a response from all aspects of society including education. As Orr (2004) notes, "all education is environmental education - by what is included or excluded, students are taught that they are part of or apart from the natural world" (p. 12). As outdoor education is so intricately tied to learning experiences in the natural world, it is imperative that outdoor educators consider how they might 16 contribute to addressing sustainability issues in their pedagogy and programs. This may be a gradual and sometimes difficult process, comprising both the critical examination of underlying assumptions and the re-envisioning of theory and practice to promote new or alternative approaches. It is to these ends that this article seeks to make a contribution.

The doctoral research which informs this paper worked with eight educators in Aotearoa New Zealand to critically examine and re-envision school-based outdoor education through sustainability perspectives. …

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